Terry Brooks is the bestselling author of dozens of fantasy and SF novels, such as The Heritage of Shannara, Landover, The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace. His latest is The Fall of Shannara: The Black Elfstone, read on audio by Simon Vance. He lives in Hawaii. His next book is science fiction, titled STREET FREAKS.
TOWER REVIEW: What had you written prior to “The Sword of Shannara,” and what was your reaction to the book’s success?
TERRY BROOKS: Prior to that, I wrote a bunch of junk. It was all experimentation with different forms of fiction, but it was necessary to spend time with it in order to get to a place where I could write the Shannara books.
TR: Were you precocious or shy, growing up?
TB: I was a shy, introverted kid, but I was good in school and liked books. I liked to use my imagination to create scenarios and characters. The kids in the neighborhood would get together to act out stories. I always tell people I was doing role playing before they invented the term.
TR: I know just what you mean. Outside, pretending, instead of watching television. So how do you explain our fascination with the magical, the mystical, and the mysterious?
TB: I think we all read to escape from stress. A few hours with a book, and everything looks different. We are somehow renewed. Fantasy is attractive for any number of reasons. It is the oldest and most familiar form of storytelling. I suppose I could argue that fantasy, with magic and monsters and strange lands, gives us a sense of empowerment we lack in our normal lives. It is no exaggeration to say that we are increasingly made to feel small and vulnerable, dwarfed by government, corporations, technology, and so on. In fantasy, that’s the traditional role of heroes, but somehow they persevere and come through. I think that gives us a reassurance we need.
TR: Regarding The Phantom Menace, did George Lucas just hand you his screenplay and give you free rein to develop the characters within certain guidelines, or did he discuss the novelization with you as you wrote it?
TB: I met with Lucas on the Phantom Menace project at Skywalker Ranch to find out what it was going to be like to work with the LucasBooks people. I admit to some concerns. My experience writing an adaptation to HOOK some years earlier was not a good one. But George was very good about agreeing to allow me to write the book the way I wanted, and to comment on it later. He allowed me to change things from the movie script, including dialogue, and I think that was in part because he understands that books do not work the same way as movies. It is a different experience. He wanted me to consider writing the book more from Anakin’s point of view. That was not hard to arrange. Thus we ended up with additional material in the book that could be more easily worked in there than it could have in the movie. It made a perfect compliment to the movie, rather than just a rehash of it.
TR: Any thoughts on series vs. stand alone novels?
TB: Well, if readers like what they find on their first journey in, they want to go back. The trick for the writer, of course, is not to make the multiple book form seem artificial. There is a certain amount of pressure on writers to just keep doing the same thing because it sold last time, so should sell this time. This is not a good way for a writer to go. It is one of the reasons I only do a certain amount of stories in a world before going away to write something else. It keeps me fresh and interested. On the other hand, now and then a single fantasy novel is sufficient to do what is needed. I think of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon,” for example. That book was complete all on its own, although she chose to write one or two sequels. I think it depends on the material.
(Note: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is read on audio by Alexander Adams, a pseudonym for Grover Gardner.)
THE DROWNING POOL by Ross MacDonald: When a millionaire matriarch is found floating face down in the family pool, the prime suspects are her good-for-nothing son and his wife, who stand to inherit, as well as a questionable chauffeur and a tycoon of a company trying to get the woman’s property for the oil under it. Private Investigator Lew Archer takes this case in the Los Angeles suburbs and encounters a moral wasteland of corporate greed and family hatred—and sufficient motive for a dozen murders.